Great British Telemarketing

Recent and highly unscientific research reveals that you have to do more than move across an ocean to get away from telemarketers.

Okay, Wild Thing and I knew that already. Since we moved here, we’ve been called by people telling us our computer has been affected by such a dangerous virus that the only way to fix it is to read a credit card number into the phone and take a sledge hammer to the hard drive. We get calls from a recorded voice with an urgent message. So urgent that it doesn’t merit a live call. And so on.

On Wednesday, Wild Thing fielded a call that—well, we never did find out what he wanted. Wild Thing picked up the phone and the caller said, “Can I talk to the lady of the house?”

Some of these calls set off reactions we could never have predicted.

“Believe me,” Wild Thing said, in a doom-laden voice, “you don’t want to talk to her.”

She has no idea where that came from—or which of us was the lady he so didn’t want to talk to.

People here commonly use the word lady where we’d say woman. I notice it and I kind of roll my eyes , but in a detached, mildly amused way. And, I should add, an invisible one—the mental eye roll; the virtual one. Sometimes think I should object, but it doesn’t set off any deep reaction in me. You want to call me a lady? I’ve been called worse things, although I’m not sure any of them were more unlikely.

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

In the U.S., the telemarketing calls did set me off. The phone was in my name, so I spent a good bit of time fielding calls for Mrs. Hawley, and very few things push my buttons quite like being called Mrs. Hawley. I can’t entirely explain that, but we can begin by saying that I’m not married and I don’t want to be married, but if I did happen to be married I probably wouldn’t be married to myself. Then I can add that I passionately hate the whole business of women being publicly sorted and addressed by marital status. Top it all off with a hefty dose of I-know-my-reaction-isn’t-helping and throw in a telephone, and even though I told myself over and over not to do it, I’d end up saying, “There is no such person. What can I do for you?”

It was unfair, I know. The callers were following a script. Lots of people we know have worked for call centers, and it’s wrong to make a tough, underpaid job any harder than it already is, but there I was being horrible to the people who read the script, not the ones who wrote it. I knew that. I pledged to reform. And then the phone would ring and off I’d go.

Oddly enough, now that I’m living in the U.K., I’m less rabid about being called Mrs., even though it happens more often here. This isn’t my native culture. It can’t touch me as deeply. That makes no sense, but it’s the only explanation I can offer. It still pisses me off, but I’m more distant about it, and less vocal.

Plus the phone isn’t in my name. That helps.

The lady of the house,  though? Sorry, she’s in the back, and the maid’s helping her with her lace gloves. Can you call back when the butler’s available to take a message?